Monday, April 18, 2011

Writing Pet Peeves

I'm passionate about writing and language. Yes, I know. Shocking, isn't it? And like anyone with passions (or anyone, in general), I have pet peeves. I'm going to steer clear of the trope peeves today, because who wants to read a post about slapdash endings, Mary Sues, love interests who're too obviously a match, "As you know, Bob", and side plots that are tangential at best? Instead I'm going to talk about my grammar peeves because they're obviously more exciting.

Pet grammar peeve #1*: Absence of serial commas. High school English taught me that it's "apples, oranges, and pears", not "apples, oranges and pears", and so my first instinct on seeing the latter is to assume a typo. But it's not a typo because some style guides recommend dropping the second comma, and the number of commas is arbitrary anyway. Doesn't stop me twitching.

Pet grammar peeve #2: Double prepositions. You know, "out of", "off of", "out from", and so on. As far as I'm concerned, those strings can be reworded more succinctly. There's no difference between saying "he came out of the building" and "he left the building", or between "the cat jumped off of the table" and "the cat jumped off the table"—barring dialect and connotations, of course. I know there are situations where "out of" works better than "left" or "from". I've written some, even. But I try to use the minimal number of prepositions and I wish others would too.

Pet grammar peeve #3: Verbs with unnecessary prepositions. Some languages, like German, create a whole new meaning when they stick a preposition onto a verb. Not so, English. What function, exactly, do the prepositions do in the following: stand up, wake up, fall down, climb up? When do you ever stand down from a chair? When I think of climbing and jumping, I think of an upwards motion more often than not, and when I think of falling, I normally think of a downwards movement. Is it even possible to wake down or wake over? When the meaning of the preposition is obvious from context or encoded in the verb, it grates on me to have the preposition there anyway.

Pet grammar peeve #4: Inconsistency. Plot hole inconsistency bugs me, yes, but I'm talking about grammar inconsistency here. This is the overly anal part of me talking, I know, but why write one list with a serial comma and one list without? Or put punctuation inside end quotes only 70% of the time? Or type -- for two-thirds of the novel, then switch to — for the last third? It strikes me as lazy editing, somehow.

I blame a couple things for these peeves. There's my perfectionism, for one thing. My complete language nerdery. The insane number of English classes that drilled grammar rules instead of more advanced writing lessons. The fact that I've edited books and other publications enough to see these things repeated ad nauseum. But I'm aware that hitting people  isn't cool, especially in public and especially over something as trivial as grammar, so all you're going to notice is a twitch, and I try to be nice when covering documents in red ink. I'm actually less restrained, but only slightly, with some of my other peeves—like why, exactly, everyone has to stand three stops before they need to get off the bus? When they know everyone else is leaving at the stop as well? It just makes the aisles more crowded, making leaving take longer! Aarggh!

What usage issues peeve you? What other things do, dare I ask?

* I call it Alfred.**
** No, not really.


NerdyGirl said...

Lack of serial commas drives me insane. A pox on the AP Stylebook for advising against them.

Jami Gold said...

Oh yes, count me in the yes-to-serial-comma gang. :) There are times they have to be there for clarity, so that tells me they should *always* be there or else we have the inconsistency problem.

Nigel Blackwell said...

English english does not use a comma before the "and" in your serial comma example, but either format doesn't bug me. What does get me is your example of "climb up" and so on. They're so weak I very often give up reading.
But what reallllllly bugs me is iPad (etc) autocorrections where people cared so little about their writing they didn't even read it back!

RosieC said...

I also take serious issue with a lack of serial commas. Too much time editing other people's work will do that to you. And, yes, the inconsistencies drive me bonkers. Unfortunately my job right now has me editing a journal, and so every 40 pages a whole new set of inconsistencies crops up, and I consider the eloquent use of an ice pick to put me out of my misery (sorry, that was a tad dark, but that's how I'm feeling today).

I found you from Reece's blog. You've got a nice look and good style. I'm glad I came over.

East for Green Eyes